NVIDIA has made quite a splash in the market with the release of their NVIDIA Optimus technology to seamlessly switch between Intel integrated and NVIDIA discrete graphics with no user intervention. The first thing we noticed when testing specifically for NVIDIA’s Optimus seemless graphics switching technology was the very feature the technology is being praised for: the lack of an instant override.
Since NVIDIA supplied a developer test tool that simply reports whether or not the discrete NVIDIA graphics are in use or not, we decided to test a few typical conditions to see when the NVIDIA GTX210m graphics card was in use.
Over a year ago (pre-NVIDIA ION release), we tested the ASUS N10Jc netbook that featured switchable graphics between the integrated and NVIDIA GeForce 9300m and we did an image quality comparison with DVD Playback on Lord of the Rings: Return of the King to see what benefit there would be between having the NVIDIA graphics enabled during DVD playback over just using the Intel integrated graphics. We found there to be a noticeable benefit to having the GeForce 9300m enabled during DVD playback as long as the user is not worried about battery life.
Fast forward to the implementation of NVIDIA Optimus and we immediately noticed that NVIDIA does not activate the GeForce G210m graphics during DVD Playback in Windows Media Player. We were a bit surprised, but realized this presents an interesting conundrum with Optimus as it is today. While the NVIDIA graphics are only activated when the user needs them to be in order to save on battery life and power consumption, what about the times when the user simply wants the NVIDIA graphics to render video playback even if they don’t need to be?
We confirmed with NVIDIA that the primary goal of Optimus is to use the Intel integrated graphics as much as possible in an effort to efficiently conserve battery life. This means that Standard Definition (SD) content is handled by the IGP and only HD content will activate the NVIDIA graphics when it comes to video playback. When we asked if a profile override through the Optimus drivers will be something users can use to force the NVIDIA graphics for certain applications, NVIDIA responded that they are looking into this possibility for the future, but currently, the way video is handled by Optimus is locked down.
While playing back a Star Trek Trailer through YouTube, NVIDIA’s Optimus technology immediately activated the NVIDIA G210m without so much as a flicker. It did impress me more than once seeing how seemless the graphics switching really was.
We ran the Resident Evil 5 benchmark out of full screen mode so we could continue to see the NVIDIA Optimus developer utility showing us the GeForce G210M GPU was being used to render the game. No surprise here as the GeForce G210M was working as hard as it could in order to keep up with Resident Evil 5.